5, 2011, 9:51 pm
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said, in an exclusive interview with The Island on Thursday (5), that Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake hadn’t come across any Tamil speaking civilians wanting to have Sri Lanka investigated for war crimes during his visit to former LTTE strongholds at Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi on May 3.
Assistant Secretary Blake, in the company of his successor Patricia Butenis met the Defence Secretary on the following day at the
The former war displaced had primarily expressed concern over lack of employment opportunities when they met the visiting dignitary, the Defence Secretary said.
The Gajaba veteran said the bottom line was that war crimes and so-called accountability hadn’t been an issue for civilians.
The Defence Secretary termed his meeting with Assistant Secretary Blake ‘encouraging’, while expressing confidence the Governments of Sri Lanka and the United States could work together in the post-war era. The US delegation flew in an SLAF helicopter and had received briefings by Security Forces Commanders in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu.
“I also received an assurance that the US had nothing to do with an alleged attempt at regime change,” the Defence Secretary said. Rajapaksa quoted Blake as having said that Sri Lanka was very important and strategically important to the US, including in the field of maritime security.
The Defence Secretary said: “Assistant Secretary Blake raised several contentious issues, including the alleged presence of armed groups in the Northern and Eastern Provinces in spite of the conclusion of the war. I explained the action taken to disarm armed groups irrespective of their political affiliations and security provided to those who needed protection. “
“I assured Assistant Secretary Blake of immediate action if information on those armed groups can be made available,” he said.
Responding to a query by The Island, the Defence Secretary said that every effort would be made to ensure that only security forces would carry weapons. Since the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009, the government had strived to help war-affected communities in spite of severe constraints, the Defence Secretary said.
Asked whether the crisis caused by the Somali pirates had been mentioned by Assistant Secretary Blake in the context of maritime security, the Defence Secretary replied: “No,” and went on to stress the pivotal importance of co-operation among countries at the highest level to tackle terrorism.
“The US also raised the delay on the part of the government to issue death certificates to those killed during the conflict et al,” the Defence Secretary said. “I explained the situation during the conflict. For years, there hadn’t been a census or update of electoral register due to parts of the Northern and Eastern Provinces being under LTTE control. Since the war, the government is in the process of carrying out a census and also collecting data with regard to loss of life among the Tamil speaking people.”
The Defence Secretary, during the meeting, while welcoming the ongoing talks between the government and the TNA had emphasized the importance of the Tamil political party changing its attitude. Nothing could be as important as realizing the ground reality on the part of the TNA in having a permanent solution to the national question.
The Defence Secretary said that the government was ready to engage the TNA and the Tamil Diaspora to work out a durable solution. But it would be necessary on their part to be realistic if the ongoing talks were to be successful.
Addressing the media at the USIS at the end of his visit on Wednesday, Assistant Secretary Blake said that the government and TNA had conducted several rounds of talks with another round scheduled for May 12. Blake expressed hope that those talks would result in a comprehensive agreement that could help Sri Lanka heal the wounds of war and ensure that all Sri Lankans enjoy equal rights and a future of hope and opportunity.